‘Sick of empty promises’

Zandile Mbabela, Lynn Williams and Duncan Reyneke

WITH only two weeks left before the June exams, the education crisis in the Eastern Cape continued its downward spiral yesterday with fiery protests by pupils, parents and teachers in Port Elizabeth and Patensie, and another court action hanging over the department’s head.

“We are so sick and tired of empty promises when it comes to our education,” pupils at Port Elizabeth’s Sanctor High School shouted yesterday. “Watch us send your broken promises up in flames.”

Bethelsdorp’s Stanford Road was closed off as more than 1000 protesters burnt tyres and toyi- toyied outside the school.

In Patensie, about 200 angry pupils and parents staged a protest over the shortage of teachers.

Meanwhile, Somerset East’s WG Olivier Primary School is also planning to close the school in a similar protest today.

Yesterday’s protests follow a string of violent protests at schools recently where pupils and parents have been demanding that vacant teacher posts be filled as well as the payment of existing temporary teachers.

Provincial Education Department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said they were working on addressing these issues.

He said the department was in the process of decentralising the recruitment of temporary teachers to only those districts deemed fit to handle the process.

“The temporary teachers owed money by the department will receive all that is owed to them this month,” he said.

“All districts deemed to be fully capacitated in expediting human resource matters will be given back their mandate to ensure that the recruitment process is sped up and finalised without awaiting approval from head office.”

At Sanctor High, the angry pupils and parents voiced their unhappiness over the district department’s foot-dragging on the finalisation of the permanent appointments of four teachers at the school.

This as the school – which has been trying to permanently fill the vacant principal post since 2010 – brings an urgent application against the Education Department to release the applicants’ forms for the school governing body to short-list and interview the candidates.

The protesters had gathered at the school before 8am for the march to Stanford Road, where they barricaded the stretch between the Golden Fountain and the Van Der Kemp’s Kloof Bridge – causing a traffic jam which forced motorists to use alternative routes.

“I hope that you are happy now. Look, your future leaders are out in the streets setting this place alight,” the pupils shouted.

They refused to move, even after the fire brigade had doused the flames and police threatened to arrest them for their “illegal” protest.

On Monday, four teachers, who collectively teach 400 pupils in a range of subjects, downed chalk because they had not been paid since January.

Parent Susan le Roux said: “It’s sad that it had to come to this, but what alternative do they leave us with? Trying to do things the right way brought us nowhere. Let’s see if they react to this drastic measure.”

A concerned matriculant, Astiana Coledridge, said they had yet to complete the work for the second term. “With only a few weeks left to the matric exams, we should have been in the revision stages but we are so far behind. If fighting for our future means being out in these streets then so be it.”

In Patensie, pupils, parents and community members from Ramaphosa Village also protested against the shortage of teachers and adequate learning facilities at Patensie Secondary School.

The school has had no teachers for Afrikaans, life orientation, arts and culture, and technology classes since the start of the year.

Bernadette Nelson, whose son is in Grade 11, said: “Without these teachers, our children face huge problems with just day-to-day learning. They sit outside the classes, in all kinds of weather. They are short of five teachers. It must be fixed.”

Gathered outside the school yesterday morning, the disgruntled crowd carried signs, saying “This is not normal. Give us teachers”, and “Ons soek onderwysers en beter opvoeding” (We need teachers and better education).

Residents have also taken issue with the fact that the school shares its premises with the Patensie Primary School.

Ward councillor Patrick Kota said the sharing had made it difficult for some of the high school pupils to concentrate on their studies as the younger pupils distracted them.

“We have set aside a nearby piece of land, Steermanskop, for the purposes of building a new school. The department must come here as soon as possible and set up a new building.”

Patensie Middle School lost five teachers last year due to declining pupil numbers.

Principal Gregory Prince said: “Our numbers went down to 265 in 2011, from 430 in 2010. As a result, our teaching staff was downsized.”

When the pupil numbers rose this year to 320, the teacher numbers remained virtually unchanged. But after a meeting with the Uitenhage district department, the school was promised a temporary teacher and four prefab classrooms.

DA Eastern Cape education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren “strongly condemned” the protests that had been disrupting education in some schools.

“We cannot allow that our children are made cannon fodder in disputes between the Department of Education and teachers. Education is the foundation for a better life,” he said.

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